Michio Hayashibara / Asia Gulf Power Service Co., Ltd.
Do you know the emirate of Abu Dhabi? It has been the source of a lot of Japanese business news. In one instance, the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA) commissioned Marubeni Corporation to play a central role in the water supply project in Shueihat in 2002 and to work on the power generation and water supply projects in Tawila in 2004. More recently, Marubeni set up a joint venture with the government of Abu Dhabi to facilitate establishment of a general trading company. Despite this publicity, many people may be unfamiliar with Abu Dhabi, even though they may be aware of Dubai as one of the seven members of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The fact is that the UAE, with a market share of 24.5%, is the second largest exporter of oil to Japan, second only to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Ninety-nine percent of the oil that comes from the UAE is produced in Abu Dhabi, according to the statistics from 2005, which are the most recent available. (In the UAE grand sumo tournament, its additional prize is one years’ supply of gasoline.) About half of the 700 or so Japanese expatriates in Abu Dhabi work at companies related to the production of oil. The Japanese Association has traditionally been headed by an oil company executive, rather than the executive of a trading company. When playing golf on the weekends, most people you see work at oil companies.
Abu Dhabi earns most of its foreign currency through oil production. Recently, however, it started to invest in major real estate and property development projects, with the aim of making the economy less dependent on oil. The largest development project that is currently being planned in Abu Dhabi is the development of Saadiyat Island, off the east coast of Abu Dhabi Island. Total investment in the project exceeds three trillion yen, and it is planned to include 29 hotels, two golf courses, 7000 villas, and 38,000 private apartments.
It is also planned to establish the cultural district by introducing to Abu Dhabi local versions of the Louvre Museum in Paris and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. In this way, Abu Dhabi is striving to distinguish itself from Dubai, which has become the largest commercial and sightseeing city in the Middle East.
In fact, Abu Dhabi is trying very hard to leapfrog ahead of Dubai; as can been seen by the opening of a seven-star hotel in 2005 and its hosting of a Formula 1 Grand Prix starting in 2009. I have some ambivalence about these achievements. On the one hand, I am happy to witness Abu Dhabi transform itself into megalopolis like Dubai, but on the other hand, I feel sad that the quiet, understated charm that Abu Dhabi once had is being eroded.
Marubeni Group magazine "M-SPIRIT" VOL.39 (May, 2007)